Taking the stigma out of low-vision assistive devices

Low-vision assistive devices have been around for a while but those who need them deny themselves the benefits.

A recent study by ophthalmologists at Aravind Eye Hospital found that almost half the patients who noticed improvement in visual performance with the devices were unwilling to use them. The study results were published as an article, Barriers in utilisation of low vision assistive products, in the July edition of the The Royal College of Ophthalmologists.

Of the 413 patients who noticed improvement in their visual performance with the products, 53% candidates did not think they require the products.

As many as 68.6% of those aged below 15 years refused to accept them, while those in the 40-60 age group cited fear of loss of employment. Those above the age of 60 accepted low vision as part of ageing.

It was not the cost or accessibility but the stigma attached to their use, the study found. The patients showed easy acceptance of devices such as hand and stand magnifiers but not telescopes and electronic devices.

Those with retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive disease leading to blindness and high myopia/hypermetropia resisted the use of devices.

This is the first study that attempts to address patient’s perspectives, according to the authors.

The study found that in general, patients with partial sight loss did not consider themselves “blind.” Parents of patients below 15 years refused to permit the use of the devices for fear of rejection by society. They were unaware of the devices’ benefits.

“These devices are beyond glasses. It will improve the quality of life but they are hesitant to use it because they may be different in a crowd,” said Priya Sivakumar, the lead author of the study.

“People have to become aware so that they won’t question those who use it. These products could be used in libraries. We have many patients who are voracious readers but they have given up reading because they cannot see. But it can be made possible with these devices,” she said.

The authors said the study helped understand the universal phenomenon of reluctance to use the devices. The information could be used to develop content for awareness campaigns among doctors and patients, they added.

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